Apr 7, 2019

"Vanilla" Rape, Unrepentant Self-Pity, and Toothless Edicts: The Moral Sickness of the Catholic Church

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.


On March 29th, Pope Francis took the unprecedented step of making Vatican City officials and diplomats mandated reporters of sexual abuse. Reminder: It is now the year of our Lord 2019.

The edict, called a Motu Proprio and which goes into effect on June 1, comes after an international summit of church leaders convened at the Vatican in February to address the abuse and protection of minors. It is the first set of concrete protocols established by the Holy See in response to the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church to its core.

But the Church was "rocked to its core" in January of 2002, when the Boston Globe ran a groundbreaking expose in its "Spotlight" section. That was when whispers, rumors, and dark humor became full-blown, public scandal. The Church hierarchy had known about the problem at least as early as 1985 when Father Thomas Doyle tried to sound an alarm at the US conference of bishops. His warning was ignored, as those same bishops continued to quietly move pedophile priests from diocese to diocese. For an organization "rocked to its core," it sure is taking its sweet time in taking any meaningful action. And this edict, appropriate as it may be, is not particularly meaningful. It's mostly symbolic, governing only Vatican personnel, and intended as "a model," not a directive, for the wider Church.

The decree and accompanying guidelines have no legal impact on parishes or congregations in other nations. Archbishop Charles Scicluna said in an interview with Vatican News that the edicts "are not intended to be for the rest of the world, they actually contemplate the concrete situation of Vatican City State; a number of minors, who either live there, work there, or visit ... always within its jurisdiction."

The Vatican's editorial director, Andrea Tornielli, acknowledged "very few children" will ultimately be affected but said that while the edict is limited in scope, the pope wants it to serve as a model for the entire church. The new requirements "contain exemplary indications that take into account the most advanced international parameters."

In other decades late actions, powerful clerics in the Church hierarchy are finally being held to account. The infamous Cardinal McCarrick has finally been defrocked and a Chilean archbishop has been forced to resign for covering up abuse. Heads are rolling, even among the Church's powerful. But not enough of them and not fast enough.

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati as archbishop of Santiago, the highest-ranking member of the Catholic Church in Chile, who has been caught up in the country’s sex abuse scandal.

. . .

Ezzati, 77, faces multiple charges of cover up, including some relating to the case of Oscar Munoz, a former top aide to the Santiago Archbishopric, who is facing trial on charges he abused and raped at least five children. He denies wrongdoing.

“I leave with my head held high,” Ezzati told reporters in Santiago. “Every accusation has been responded to, and we will have to wait for what justice says: it is not enough for one to be accused of a cover-up; it has to be proven”.

Ezzati's defiance is typical of the self-righteousness we've seen since the earliest revelations of priestly abuse. Just once I'd like to hear one of these guys say: It happened on my watch, so I'm responsible. The buck stops here.

I expect it'll be a cold day in hell.

The apologia for Cardinal George Pell is more nauseating still, because he is not just guilty of administrative cover-ups. Pell is the highest-ranking cleric yet to be convicted of sexual abuse. His story is a near-perfect, microcosmic reflection of the Catholic sex abuse scandal writ large. He ascended to the heights and halls of power in the Vatican, considered the "third most powerful man in the Catholic Church." And his hypocrisy is as outrageous as it emblematic of the institution he serves.

In late October 1996, Cardinal George Pell stood before a panel of reporters in Melbourne, Australia, and apologized. He apologized on behalf of the Australian Catholic Church, who, as it had recently surfaced, was complicit in covering up pervasive and unimaginable child abuse by priests. “I would like to make a sincere, unreserved, and public apology,” Pell said, according to David Marr’s The Prince: Faith, Abuse and George Pell. He had a peculiar manner of speaking — an Australian accent polished by an Oxford education. “First of all to the victims of sexual abuse, but also to the people of the archdiocese for the actions of those Catholic clergy.” He declared himself an advocate in the fight against child abuse, and announced a new compensation scheme for the victims of his religious brothers.

Yet only a few weeks later, Pell cornered two thirteen-year-old choirboys in the sacristy of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and sexually abused them, a jury has found. He forced one boy to perform oral sex while the other flinched away — “crying” and “sobbing” and “whimpering,” as a judge later described. It was a Sunday morning, after mass. The boys had just finished singing hymns. They were on a singing scholarship and came from poorer communities. Pell had just been appointed archbishop.

In the light of day, Pell was a moralizing culture warrior, fighting valiantly against the dangers of women's equality and gay rights. In the shadows, he was a child molester among child molesters, advancing the Church's agenda of covering up the abuse that dare not speak its name.

It was horrifying enough to hear him say, in 2002, that "Abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests sexually abusing young people." But now we know that he wasn't just minimizing horrific abuse, he was justifying his own evil acts.

That kind of justification continued right up through his sentencing hearing, when his attorney, Robert Richter, announced, without apparent irony, that Pell's assault on two young boys was, "No more than a plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating…"

Let's make one thing very clear. There is no such thing as a "vanilla" rape. But to hear Richter tell it, if there are no whips and chains, molesting a child is just not that big a deal. It would be laughable in its absurdity, if the reality weren't so traumatizing for the victims, but it's also right in keeping with how the Church has been trivializing the soul murder of children for decades.

Pell will likely serve less than four years in prison... for raping children.

Cardinal George Pell has been sentenced to six years in jail after being convicted of sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys in 1996.

The former Vatican treasurer, 77, was handed a non-parole period of three years and eight months by the judge, who described his offending as “brazen and forceful” and “breathtakingly arrogant” because he believed the victims would never complain.

The sentence means he may spend at least three years and eight months in jail.

Judge Peter Kidd, while openly disdainful of Pell's callousness and cruelty to two thirteen year old boys, also took pity on his age and infirmity, admitting that even with that lenient sentence he may die in prison. He should. He only got to be this bloody old, free from incarceration, because the Catholic Church has been protecting child molesters like him for decades.

Despite Judge Kidd's harsh words for Pell's flagrant abuse of power, the actual sentence is awfully light. He also cited a belief that Pell had "effectively reformed," never re-offended, and had lived an "otherwise blameless life." But that only means he didn't get caught. In truth we have no idea how many children Pell has molested over the years. There have been many other accusations dating all the way back to his youth.

The boy’s name is Phillip Scott; he was twelve years old. Pell was twenty, bright-eyed and fresh faced, and looked more like a footballer than a priest. He was broad-shouldered and over six feet tall, earning him his nickname from the campers: “Big George.” Scott alleged that Pell molested him “on any occasion that it was possible” during the camp — in his tent, on nature walks, while they were swimming. He also alleged that Pell abused another camper, Michael Foley. As typically happens in cases of child abuse, the victim didn’t come forward for decades; he was left to process his trauma, while Pell was welcomed into the church as a priest. His career had begun.

He stepped off lightly with the cover-up of one of the most disturbing sex abuse scandals in Australian history.

After he graduated, Pell returned home to Ballarat, where he lived and practiced in the St. Alipius presbytery. There, he immersed himself in a crisis; the St. Alipius boys’ school had become overrun with child sexual abuse, perpetrated by a ring of Christian brothers and a pedophile priest. They were raping, beating, and abusing the schoolboys. Kids were violated in just about every corner of the school, including the principal’s office. In one fourth grade class, over a third of the boys went on to commit suicide. “It was one hell of an evil place,” says Lyndon Monument, one of Pell’s accusers who went to the school. “Just pedophiles — a network of pedophiles.”

As his career continued, and while he was editing the Ballarat diocese newspaper, he spent his off-hours playing with kids at the local swimming pool and molesting them under the water.

These are not the crimes of which he was convicted. That was a particularly disturbing incident. Pell had caught two 13 year old choirboys stealing wine in the sacristy.

The complainant, who is now aged 35, said he and the other choirboy had separated from the choir procession as it exited the church building. The prosecution’s case hinged on his evidence, as the other victim died in 2014 after a heroin overdose. Neither victim told anyone about the offending at the time.

. . .

Pell manoeuvred his robes to expose his penis. He stepped forward, grabbed the other boy by the back of his head, and forced the boy’s head on to his penis, the complainant told the court.

Pell then did the same thing to the complainant, orally raping him. Once he had finished, he ordered the complainant to remove his pants, before fondling the complainant’s penis and masturbating himself. The complainant said the attack lasted only a few minutes, and the boys left the room afterwards, hung up their choir robes and went home.

In other words, he used sexual assault as a punishment. He got off on degrading naughty boys, who were in his care and at his mercy. People like that don't just stop offending or live "otherwise blameless" lives. And Pell had been showing us who he was all along. "I’ve got a formidable temper which I almost never show. But the discipline that is needed for me not to lapse in that way, I think helps explain my wooden appearance." It's just that no one believed him. (See: Maya Angelou)

If Pell were an aberration in the Catholic hierarchy, we could almost forgive the Church for its blindness, but he was not, and that blindness — nay, complicity — was systematic.

Only in an institution in willful denial, or worse, could a predator like Marcial Maciel Degollado have, not only thrived, but been feted by the pope. Monsters like this turned congregations into hunting grounds, while the Church forgave their "sins" and actively concealed their crimes.

In a remarkable admission, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx said Saturday that documents that could have contained proof of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church were destroyed or never drawn up.

"Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed or not even created," said Marx, the archbishop of Munich and president of the German Bishops' Conference.

"The stipulated procedures and processes for the prosecution offenses were deliberately not complied with," he added, "but instead canceled and overridden.

"Such standard practices will make it clear that it is not transparency which damages the church, but rather the acts of abuse committed, the lack of transparency, or the ensuing coverup."

And even now, as the Church begins its second "year of hell" in a row, does the pope take the decades late action of making officials mandated reporters. And he doesn't even make it a Church-wide policy, only an example that dioceses around the world can choose to follow or ignore.

What does the pope manage to enforce in all of Catholicdom? The suppression of women. Now that is a policy strictly enforced. And he admits that women are right to grumble about it. It just doesn't matter, because women are never going to be priests in this archaic institution. Nor will nuns be any more protected from sexual assault by priests than the Church's children are. In the wake of the Vatican's magazine Women Church World publishing that expose, the all-female editorial board resigned in protest, as their new-found power slipped away.

"We are throwing in the towel because we feel surrounded by a climate of distrust and progressive de-legitimization," [Lucetta] Scaraffia wrote in the letter to the pontiff. "It seems to us that a vital initiative is reduced to silence and that we return to the antiquated and arid practice of top-down selection, under direct male control, of women deemed trustworthy."

The priorities of the Vatican are clear, and for all Pope Francis's pretty words and sympathy, this will not change. He is but another cog in an organizational machinery that seems hell-bent on self-destruction.

The Church also will not budge on ending the sham of "celibacy." Pope Francis has sliced and diced this one as finely as he could, but has made it clear that the policy isn't going anywhere. In the movie Spotlight, discussed here, they make the point that about half of all clergy are sexually active. Mostly it's among consenting adults, but the lies, secrets, and shame have fostered a perversity that is fueled by a culture of concealment. And for all the Church's enshrined homophobia, there is a very active gay subculture, one Church officials have denied for decades, but, paradoxically, blame for their pedophilia problem. The evidence suggests that the Church's hostility to homosexuality is a case of pure projection.

The picture [Frédéric] Martel draws is jaw-dropping. Many of the Vatican gays — especially the most homophobic — treat their vows of celibacy with an insouciant contempt. Martel argues that many of these cardinals and officials have lively sex lives, operate within a “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture, constantly hit on young men, hire prostitutes, throw chem-sex parties, and even pay for sex with church money. How do we know this? Because, astonishingly, they tell us.

So much of the information in the book comes from sources deep within the Holy See. Named and unnamed, they expose their fellow cardinals and bishops and nuncios as hypocrites, without perhaps realizing that their very targets are doing the same to them. Martel didn’t expect this remarkable candor, or, clearly, what he was about to see: “Whether they are ‘practising’, ‘homophile’, ‘initiates’, ‘unstraights’, ‘wordly’, ‘versatile’, ‘questioning’, or simply ‘in the closet’, the world I am discovering, with its 50 shades of gay, is beyond comprehension.”

When Pope Francis rants like a lunatic about a "gay mafia" in the Church, this is probably what he's talking about. He's also tilting at windmills. No one does hypocrisy quite like the Catholic Church.

Catholic clergy also excel at self-righteous outrage, as SNL's Pete Davidson learned when he compared the Church to R. Kelly. Worse still, the Brooklyn Diocese hid behind the Church's own victims, while it whined about being insulted.

Apparently, the only acceptable bias these days is against the Catholic Church. The faithful of our Church are disgusted by the harassment by those in news and entertainment, and this sketch offends millions. The mockery of this difficult time in the Church’s history serves no purpose.

The clergy sex abuse crisis is shameful, and no one should ever get a laugh at the expense of the victims who have suffered irreparably. The Diocese of Brooklyn strives every day to ensure that sexual abuse by clergy never happens again.

Davidson's comparison was exactly on-point. Comparing the Church to Michael Jackson is also more than fair. Kelly, Jackson, the Catholic Church, they're all being stripped of their glamour and losing their fans. And it's about damn time.

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